Last updated 26-01-21
People living in Ireland produce more than 13 million tonnes of waste every year. We do this in our homes, our places of work and leisure. The Environmental Protection Agency’s waste statistics team collects information on this waste and reports national estimates of specific waste streams.
International and national waste policy is drawn up so that we create less waste, and that the waste we do create, is recycled as much as possible. What cannot be recycled should at least serve another useful purpose (e.g. energy production). To draft effective waste policies and to assess whether or not these work, we need information on waste generation, collection and treatment in Ireland.
International developments strongly influence the waste sector in Ireland and also its regulation. A large proportion of Irish waste legislation springs from our membership of the European Union and our participation in international conventions. A recent example is the European Union ‘Circular Economy’ package of measures. This legislation intends that once raw materials have entered our economy, they will keep circling around rather than drop out for disposal after one use.
Ireland’s international involvement brings with it extensive obligations to report on waste. The EPA waste statistics team uses the data it collects to help to fulfill Ireland’s international reporting obligations, support waste policy makers and inform the general public.
In our everyday lives we produce a general mix of waste in our homes, offices, schools and similar premises. This type of waste is called municipal waste. It is usually collected at kerbside or we bring it to collection centers. It excludes special types of waste, such us construction and demolition waste, waste from industry and waste cars, for example.
The amount of municipal waste generated in our country is an important measure of how wasteful our everyday lives are. As it is made up by all the bits and pieces we throw out as we go through our daily lives, municipal waste is a mix of very different types of materials. To make recycling possible, the different materials need to be collected separately or mixed municipal waste must be segregated into recyclable single material streams. Due to the nature of municipal waste, this is very difficult and more than half of municipal waste generated in Ireland is therefore either landfilled or incinerated to recover energy, rather than recycled.
The good news is that each one of us can make a difference: In our private and working lives,
- We can take action to produce less of this difficult type of waste;
- We can make the waste we cannot avoid generating as recyclable as possible;
- We can present our waste separated correctly into recyclable waste, organic waste and residual waste (see www.mywaste.ie for more information).
A study of what is in our bins shows that we put recyclable materials into our residual bin and non-recyclabel waste into our recyclable and organic bins - all of which hinders recycling.
Waste that is not recycled represent a loss of resources to society, so the European Union has set recycling targets for municipal waste. By 2020, European member states must recycle 50 per cent of their municipal waste. This target will increase by five percentage points every five years, until it reaches 65 per cent in 2035.
Our section on municipal waste describes trends in Ireland's generation and treatment of municipal waste. You can find detailed information on specific types of mumicipal waste on our pages on household waste and composting and anaerobic digestion.
Producer responsibility initiatives make producers responsible for their goods when these become waste. In Ireland, producer responsibility schemes are in place for packaging, electrical and electronic equipment, batteries, cars, farm plastics and tyres. The European Union has set collection targets for waste electrical and electronic equipment and waste batteries; and recycling and other recovery targets for all but waste tyres and waste farm plastics.
The packaging producer responsibility scheme is the oldest such initiative in Ireland. Most Irish packaging producers are members of the packaging compliance scheme Repak. Producer compliance schemes are organisations that help producers to meet their obligations as a group rather than as individuals. Repak and the packaging initiative have been very successful. Ireland has always achieved the European recycling and recovery targets.
The producer compliance schemes WEEE Ireland and European Recycling Platform (ERP) Ireland organise and finance the majority of the waste electrical and electronic equipment and waste portable battery collection and treatment for Ireland. Even though the collection, recycling and recovery targets set for these waste streams by Europe increased considerably over the last few years, Ireland has always achieved them. An even higher collection target of 65 per cent of the waste electrical and electronic equipment generated is set for 2019. Achieving this target is a challenge.
In connection with end-of-life vehicles, Ireland’s recycling and recovery record is patchy. We only reached the targets set for 2006 in 2012. Higher targets were introduced for 2015, and in 2016 we had not yet recovered enough materials from end-of-life vehicles to achieve the new recovery target. To address weaknesses in this sector, the producer compliance scheme ELV Environmental Services (ELVES) was established in 2017. ELVES works with end-of-life vehicle treatment facilities and shredders to improve Ireland’s recycling and recovery performance.
Some wastes need to be handled and treated with special care because they pose a threat to human health and the environment. Such wastes are called ‘hazardous’. Most of the hazardous waste in Ireland is produced by industry, but all economic sectors and also households contribute to the hazardous waste generated in Ireland in each year.
Our section on hazardous waste shows that the generation of hazardous waste has been increasing since 2012. By reducing the amount of hazardous waste we produce, we can protect our environment and our health. The national hazardous waste management plan describes how hazardous waste is managed in Ireland, it suggests how we can improve this and how we can enhance data on hazardous waste generation.
Demolishing and constructing buildings and roads leads to huge amounts of waste. The tonnage of soil and stones that is moved from construction sites to soil recovery facilities and landfills dwarfs all other construction and demolition waste. Next in size is mineral (concrete, bricks, tiles and similar) waste.
As a result of the fluctuations in construction activities, the tonnages of construction and demolition waste generated are very variable. This is particularly challenging for the Irish waste industry and infrastructure, because the tonnages involved when the construction sector is booming are massive.
To prioritise the recovery of materials from construction and demolition waste, the EU asks member states to achieve 70% of construction and demolition waste (excluding hazardous and soil and stones) material recovery by 2020.
Our section on construction and demolition waste will give you statistics on how Ireland manages this waste stream. For information on prevention and best practice regarding construction and demolition waste, please look at the EPA's web resource on this topic.